The People's Perspective on Medicine

When Is High LDL Cholesterol a Problem?

A study of low-risk individuals that ran for more than a quarter of a century found that even in these people, high LDL cholesterol can shorten life expectancy.

You have probably heard that high LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. That is the reason doctors prescribe medication to lower cholesterol. Most people imagine this is most important for people at high risk for heart disease, and that is probably true. A new study suggests that even people at low risk for heart problems could benefit from keeping LDL cholesterol under control (Circulation Aug. 16, 2018).

The Long-Term Study:

In this study, 36,375 participants of the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study were considered to be at low risk, less than 7.5 percent, for a heart event over the next ten years, based on an algorithm that takes multiple risk factors into account. Blood lipids were measured and the volunteers were followed up for approximately 27 years.

High LDL Cholesterol at the Outset Predicted Worse Outcomes:

During the study, 1,684 of the participants died from coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. (This is just under 5 percent of the total number of study subjects.) Those who had high LDL cholesterol levels were more likely than those with very low levels to end up among the deceased. Specifically, after adjusting for other risk factors, people with LDL cholesterol between 160 and 189 mg/dL and those with LDL levels of at least 190 mg/dL were 70 and 50 percent more likely to perish during the quarter century follow-up. That amounts to approximately four years less of life.

What Should You Do About Your High LDL Cholesterol Levels?

If you have high LDL but are otherwise healthy, you could benefit from paying more attention to your diet, exercise, and stress management.

The lead author, Dr. Shuaib Abdullah, told Medical News Today:

“Those with low risk should pursue lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to achieve LDLs levels as low as possible, preferably under 100 [milligrams per deciliter],” Dr. Abdullah advises, adding, “Limiting saturated fat intake, maintaining a healthy weight, discontinuing tobacco use, and increasing aerobic exercise should apply to everyone.”

You can learn more about such non drug approaches from our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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From my brushes with life insurance underwriters with over thirty years as an insurance agent (life was not my specialty), I found that the underwriters cared little about LDL or total cholesterol but cared a lot about the ratio of total cholesterol/HDL. If that number exceeded 5 you would not get a preferred rating. The same held true if your blood pressure exceeded 140/90. By going mostly vegetarian (I still eat some fish) I managed to raise my HDL from around 40 to 57. My total cholesterol/HDL fell to 4.46 whereas before it was crowding 5. I was very happy but my doctor wasn’t because my total cholesterol was 254. I still do not take a statin and do not intend to.

I was taking 10Mg Lipitor and had a total cholesterol count of 157. I stopped the Lipitor and instead take Beta-Sitosterol Plant Sterols, two capsules, two times per day with meals. My cholesterol is still in the ‘safe’ range of 184. Both LDL and HDL are in the ‘normal’ range. I am 66 yrs old, history of tachycardia.

I think statin drugs are prescribed much too freely. My husband has been on this drug for years and has muscle weakness so severe he can hardly lift anything. He used to lift weights faithfully. The doctor will not take him off of the drug. After reading what people shared I am going to get the almonds and Metamucil for him. Wish me luck.

I agree with inflammation being a bigger danger to one’s health. Stop eating so much processed sugar!

I’ve taken red yeast rice to get my total cholesterol down, along with fish oil to get my Triglycerides down. They seemed to have worked. Except my HDL & LDL were constantly out of range. So,I added 500 mg. of “KRILL OIL,” and everything fell into place.
First time since I can remember that something like that ever happened.

I am healthy, trim, with low average blood pressure, non diabetic, exercise and follow Meditterannean diet but my cholesterol is way high. LDL of 190, total cholesterol 284, HDL 37. Doctors push stations but after trying various stations and unable to tolerate memory problems, aces and pains, I do not want to start again. Am I doomed to a shorter lifespan?

Kyolic cholesterol formula, 2 caps with breakfast along with
Plant sterols capsule reduced my LDL by 35 points in one month!
My doctor was stunned and quit nagging about statins. I am still high but believe I can be in normal range within six months. I promise this is the truth.

MY LDL was running 150plus and got tired of hearing about it. I read that eating Almonds would do the trick so bought a big back at Costco and ate them in place of snacks and candy and was tested 3 months later and LDL down to 72. Doctor looked at me with suspicion but that is what it took and I’m staying with my Almonds !!

How many almonds do you eat per day?

Try adding coconut oil to your diet. My husband brought his cholesterol down about 20 percent by making this one change.

Hey, Cleo,

I am always looking for natural foods to reduce cholesterol. I have heard about almonds. How many almonds do you eat in a day?

My LDL number is 83 which I think is good, but, my HDL number is low at 37. What do you recommend to raise my HDL number?
Regards, Douglas

I am a senior citizen. I am 5’4″ , weight 114 lbs. , normal BP, normal blood sugar, no illnesses Have tried to lower cholesterol for years through diet and exercise to no avail. It is difficult to weigh the side effects of cholesterol meds with the benefits. I do not take cholesterol drugs because of the side effects.

seems like one article says low ldl is good another says it doens’t matter especially for women and women over 75. another says too low is bad.

so what is a person supposed to do?

People’s recently referenced a BMJ study titled roughly “a lack of association or an inverse association between high LDL and morbidity in people over 60”. The present study looks at people with an average age of 42 and finds a correlation between high LDL and morbidity. the two studies don’t necessarily disagree, the present study just needs to be correlated with age.

T o o m a n y p i l l s

I am not in the medical field. Just an ordinary senior citizen who saw what happend to my then 80 year-old mother (now 98). She was prescribed simvastatin after a heart attack, and within a year she was suffering from muscle weakness, aches and cramps in her legs as well as sleeping problems.

I provided her with suitable information (books, patient stories etc.), and she stopped the medication and recovered.

I recently read a new book by a British doctor James Le Fanu – Too many pills (2018). I
agree with Dr. Le Fanu – the change will have to come from the public.

“The only solution, he argues, is for the public to take the initiative. His review of the relevant evidence for the efficacy, or otherwise, of commonly prescribed drugs should allow readers of Too Many Pills to ask much more searching questions about the benefits and risks of the medicines they are taking.”

Not sure what to believe? A long term (I believe 20 yrs) Japanese study showed that those whose overall cholesterol and LDL increased as they aged (re senior population) lived longer.

My name is CJ, male, 74, living in Montreal.

In 2013 my – then family practitioner resident at Toronto’s Mt Sinai Family Clinic – has sent me to a # 1 cardiologist, great lady and doctor. Same hospital.
This ended with an angyoplasty in March same year at Toronto General,
Single stent was inserted.

Since then I am having horrible muscle pains ,in both my upper front legs.
She changed my Atorvastatin 80 mg to Crestor, which I stopped on my own soon.

My combined cholesterol reading during the years was not more than 5.3
No doctor can help me, or wants to as of today.
Nobody has a clue what is going on.
Pfizer must be having a good time
I swim, gym, sauna, take supplements – survived 7 months of horrible New Brunswick winter,
Can not walk or stand a lot.
Due to local medical manipulations and very little help from the Canadian PMs office,I have trouble walking up on the subway stair, or getting up from a chair.
Due to medical bureacracy I do not even have a Quebec health card till October.
They call Canada the best country in the world.

I say – my tuches!
Have a good day folks!

Check your vitamin D3 levels. The pharmacist told us statins can greatly deplete the body’s D3 levels and cause the problems you’re having. Many doctors don’t seem to be aware of this. My husband was having intense leg pain on 80mg of atorvastatin, quit using it for a month, and then went to 40mg . He takes 5000IU’s of vitamin D3 per day and doesn’t have any problems after a year. Some people have to take many thousand IU’s to maintain relief from the pain. I hope this may be helpful.

So what is it? Statins are good to take or not. I feel like I get mixed messages here.

Any update on Armolipid Plus?

When it is stated “under 5%”, does that mean e.g., 4/100? Does a 50% increase mean e.g., 2/100?

Lipitor adversely affected my Dad’s leg muscles.

Isn’t it the ratio of LDL to HDL that shows how “well” we are, rather than just a high or low number?

I’m not sure what to think about this. Everyone seems to be stuck on LDL cholesterol and statin drugs. What about inflammation levels in the body? I think inflammation is the real issue and LDL is a secondary issue that gets all of the attention. Reduce inflammation and I think cardiac events will become a non-event regardless of LDL.

Here is a simple example to illustrate my point: when you scrape your knee, the skin is damaged and a scab forms. If you have higher levels of inflammation, the inner wall of the artery lining is damaged and a cholesterol scab forms to patch the damage, and then possibly a future cardiac event occurs because of this. Stop damaging the inner lining of the artery and no cholesterol scab forms. Has mainstream medicine ever investigated this?

My doctors have said I need to lower my LDL and have tried to put me on statins…..even though I have terrible effects from them….My doc told me to try taking meta capsules (Metamusal) and watch my diet and I have averaged dropping my LDL by about 30 points each 6 mo. period.By December of this year, it should be under 100….I don’t feel that there are prescriptions for everything. Especially $14,000-00 one…..

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